The New Adulthood Starts In Youth

There is a significant shift taking place in how and when young people identify as adults. Whereas Millennials ushered in an era of extended adolescence and held onto their youthful ways, Gen Z is growing into adulthood much earlier. 

The way that they were raised—Millennials by Boomer parents, and Zs by Xer parents—plays a significant part in when and how these young generations grow up. Millennials were micro-managed by parents who hovered over every aspect of their lives. This carried on well into adulthood when, in extreme cases, their moms and dads would attend work interviews on their children’s behalf and continue their allowances as their children entered their 20s. However, raised by pragmatic Xer parents, Zs have been encouraged to be independent and strive to make their own way in the world from a young age. 

Today’s teens also have unprecedented access to the adult world. These days, it’s not uncommon that by the age of 18 a young person would have made his or her own decision about what classes to take in high school and would have learned to budget their money and make smart purchasing decisions. Quite a few are likely to have fought for a prestigious internship or held down a job. And many would have also likely tried alcohol or drugs and had their first sexual encounter. They even have friends who are much older than they are, which furthers their adult sensibilities. In fact, the “adult” behaviors that they would be least likely to have tried would be those that are more closely regulated by law, such as driving and voting. With so much adult experience at a young age, it’s not surprising that 41% of teens aged 14-18 already consider themselves adults, according to our report. 



As teens’ perception of their own maturity is changing, so must the way brands and marketers speak to this generation of young adults. In the past, marketers could win young teens over by making them feel more grown up and sophisticated, likening products or services to more adult offerings. In modern times in which teens already see themselves as mature individuals, there is little allure in products suggesting that they can help teens become more grown up. Trying out adult behaviors is no longer seen as risky or daring but instead seems commonplace and passé. Creating Friday night blocks of teen-specific entertainment no longer speaks to them because their media interests are more likely to overlap with those of older viewers, including everything from documentaries to crime dramas to cooking competitions. 

In short, teens can’t be lured by promises of illicit excitement or by products created “just for teens,” as if they have vastly different needs and interests from adults. Instead, the best way to capture teens’ attention is to talk to them as intelligent adults, which is how they see themselves. To that point, the brands that are doing best with teens are among those doing best with young adults as well. These include tech brands like Apple and Samsung, and lifestyle brands like Nike, Forever 21, and Adidas, according to our research. These brands address not only their grown-up needs to be connected and to build their personal style but also, and more importantly, they don’t pander to their younger customers.

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